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I have a Mac Mini (with USB 3.0 ports, one Thunderbolt port, and one Ethernet port) and two MacBooks (both with Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 but no Ethernet ports).

I want to use the Mac Mini as a central repository (essentially a NAS or external hard drive) for video footage that the two MacBooks can transfer files from at the highest possible speed.

I've considered and researched the following things and haven't found a solution:

  • USB 3.0 male to male crossover cables (don't exist)
  • Ethernet crossover cable network (MacBooks don't have Ethernet jacks, would this work with Ethernet to Thunderbolt adapters?)
  • daisy-chaining Mac Mini → MacBook 1 → MacBook 2 using Thunderbolt (not sure if this is possible, can anybody verify?)

If none of these options are possible, I guess I'll have to connect the Mini to the network via Ethernet and hope transfer speeds are decent.

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There are USB 3.x male to male cables that should work for you. Here's one example. -> https://www.startech.com/Networking-IO/USB-PS2/usb-file-transfer-cable-windows-mac~USB3LINK

I have not used such a cable myself but there are several such cables on the market and it appears that they all use the same chip inside. It sounds like they can be put in a "serial mode" or an "Ethernet mode". Each mode is much like it sounds, a serial mode will look like having two USB to serial adapters back to back, and Ethernet mode will look like two Ethernet adapters back to back. Cables like this are generally preferable to pairing up serial or Ethernet adapters because this is faster, 5 gigabits instead of 100 megabits per second, and is cheaper, because if someone were to track down a couple gigabit Ethernet adapters the cost would be far higher.

Take great care in selecting cables because there are still many USB 2.0 devices like this which will only get you 480 Mbps. Even worse are a number of cables that do not comply with the USB standard and will SHORT OUT THE POWER PINS!

There are passive, and USB 3.x compliant, crossover cables (compliant because they do not connect the power pins) that could work if someone could find drivers. Cables like this -> https://www.datapro.net/products/usb-3-0-super-speed-a-a-debugging-cable.html

Both laptops do not have to be connected by the same means. A Thunderbolt cable between the Mac Mini and one laptop will create a very fast network, up to 20 Gbps with Thunderbolt 2. Cables like this -> https://eshop.macsales.com/shop/Thunderbolt/OWC/Thunderbolt-Cables

Connecting everything by Ethernet is a "safe" choice as setting up a network this way is quite simple, low cost, well documented, etc. All you need is a couple Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapters and a hub, or three Ethernet adapters (one for each computer, plus using the one Ethernet port already in the Mac Mini) and connect the two laptops to the Mini by Ethernet. Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapters like these should do -> https://eshop.macsales.com/item/Apple/MD463LLAU/

Here's what I'd do in this case, Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt from Mini to one laptop and the USB 3.x transfer cable to the other. The Thunderbolt connection should practically set itself up, it's things like this that the port was made for. The USB transfer cable is not something I've tried before but the people that make them say they work. If not then return it and get a gigabit Ethernet adapter instead.

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  • Is there any configuration required or will it just work once the cables are plugged in? – nohillside Feb 26 at 6:15
  • With Thunderbolt and Ethernet it will "just work" since MacOS implements the same auto-configuration that's been part of TCP/IP for a long time. This might still need some configuration to get the file sharing and such like it's wanted. The USB transfer cable might need a driver and some configuration. Using the passive USB "debugging" cable is something that I have not seen a driver for, it sure would be nice if someone wrote one. Maybe someone did write a driver, I just haven't seen it. – MacGuffin Feb 26 at 6:37
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I think this is what you're looking for as a cheap and easy solution:

http://store.apple.com/us/product/MC704ZM/A/apple-usb-ethernet-adapter

or:

http://store.apple.com/us/product/MD463ZM/A/thunderbolt-to-gigabit-ethernet-adapter

Get a switch, plug your three computers into it via ethernet, and configure them all with static IPs on the same subnet. You can also run a DHCP server on the Mini if you want, but it's not required for this sort of setup.

If you really want the absolute fastest, you'd need to use IP over Thunderbolt directly, but that's getting rather more complicated: http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1657957 Not even sure there are Thunderbolt networking switches available yet.

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I'd seriously recommend getting an inexpensive router and using it as your network base. TP Link makes very reliable and cheap gigabit routers, Asus makes modestly priced and even more capable routers, N18U would be a quick recommendation, available at around $60 right now. Just turn off the wifi and don't connect anything to the blue WLAN port.

Asus N18U backside with four 1000Base-T ports

Apple USB 2 Ethernet adapter

Apple Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter

In this case the DHCP management is done by the router, massively simplifying your network set up (no static IP's needed). You'd still need the Apple USB Ethernet Adapters for 100Base-T speeds (in which case a $25 100Base-T ethernet router would be enough, you almost certainly have one in your basement or attic). This would offer about 7 MB/sec transfer speeds. With the Thunderbolt to Ethernet Adapter, you'd see between 40 MB/sec to 70 MB/sec transfer speeds. The Thunderbolt to Ethernet Adapter costs the same as the Apple USB Ethernet Adapters (about $30) but it does take over your external display port.

You haven't said if you would still like to be be able to use Thunderbolt for either an external display and/or external storage (which often does offer a passthrough).

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